Nostalgia and the Now: the anatomy of a perfect Splendour In The Grass lineup

In an incredible turn of events, electropop legends Gorillaz will be headlining next year’s Splendour in the Grass.

While previous headliner Flume will be missed, the inclusion of Gorillaz as his replacement has been received as an upgrade for festival-goers looking for a sweet nostalgic hit.

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With the addition of Gorillaz to the 2021 edition of Splendour In The Grass, the festival has a distinctly – and very-much welcome – nostalgic feel to it.

Along with The Strokes, whose early 2000s albums Is This It and Room on Fire were arguably the height of the band’s powers, there’s an early naughties flavour for the headliners of Splendour 2021.

Gorillaz have only toured down under once, all the way back in 2010 for their Escape to Plastic Beach tour, making their headline announcement even more exciting. The Byron festival has a history of enlisting huge throwback acts alongside a selection of contemporary big hitters and hand-picked up-and-comers.

When this combination strikes true, you have yourselves a near-perfect lineup.

The Early Years

Even in the first decade of Splendour’s rise to prominence as Australia’s must-visit festival, there were a string of class international acts from yesteryear topping the bill, supplementary to a spotlight on Australia’s top local acts.

2006’s edition, more commonly known as ‘Splendour in the Mud’, was headlined by the likes of Sonic Youth and former Beach Boys member, Brian Wilson. Despite consistently releasing albums over their 30-year career, Sonic Youth’s 1988 album Daydream Nation is commonly thought to be the pinnacle of the rock group’s discography. No one could turn down the opportunity to see the group headline night one, however, their night two counterpart proved to be the highlight of the festival.

Brian Wilson was making a solo career resurgence in the 2000s after seemingly doing it all with the Beach Boys in the ’60s and ’70s, before mental illness and substance abuse overtook the California native’s career. His 2006 headline set, in which he finished with a rendition of Row Row Row Your Boat, signalled a shining moment for Wilson’s solo pursuits.

In 2008 Devo headlined Splendour in the Grass almost 30 years after their hit Whip It shot them into the mainstream, and similarly in 2010 Pixies were at the top billing more than 20 years after the release of their platinum-selling album Doolittle.

Devo and Pixies were both lucky enough to be in good company with their mid-billing counterparts, elegantly mixing throwbacks with acts who were hitting their peak. 2008 had the likes of a post-My People The Presets, Vampire Weekend, The Wombats, and PNAU, while 2010 saw The Temper Trap in the middle of Sweet Disposition euphoria as well as Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine, and Empire of the Sun.

Photo: Cyril Singaro/EPA/Shuttershock

The Perfect Splendour In The Grass Cocktail

The 2011 lineup for Splendour in the Grass will go down as one of the best in the festival’s history. A mix of classic acts playing their greatest hits, alongside artists at the height of their popularity meant there was something for everyone in Woodfordia, Queensland.

Kanye West closed out night one in a coup that no doubt led to more mainstream headliners making the trip down under for future editions. The rapper delivered a performance to remember with hits such as Jesus Walks tearing the house down. Meanwhile, Coldplay returned for their second stint as Splendour headliners, closing out the amphitheatre on the final night.

There was also plenty of nostalgia on hand. Jane’s Addiction finally made their way to Splendour after cancelling their original appearance in 2009, headlining the second night of the festival over two decades since the release of Nothing Shocking; an album that paved the way for the alternative revolution of the ’90s. Elsewhere, Britpop legends Pulp tore the house down with Common People and Disco 2000, teleporting everyone back to 1995 when the group laid down a soundtrack for every middle-class Englishman.

A Reunion Tour for the Ages

2014 was dominated by the announcement that hip-hop duo Outkast would be reuniting after a 10-year hiatus for a festival-only world-tour with Splendour in the Grass on their hit-list.

Performing at the likes of Coachella, Wireless, and Governor’s Ball, Aussie music fans were eagerly anticipating the pair’s trip to Byron Bay for their 20-year anniversary tour. Before Splendour even got the chance to drop their lineup, Outkast’s involvement was seemingly leaked on their own website as night one performers.

The Atlanta rap group were the biggest draw of that year’s festival, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They ran through an extensive back catalogue of their greatest hits, including Ms Jackson, Rosa Parks, and of course their 2003 hit Hey Ya! which was met to a hellacious reaction.

Photo: Ashley Mar

A Mammoth Headline Performance

Perhaps the most similar-looking lineup to the original bill planned for 2020, the 2016 edition saw The Strokes, Flume, and English rock pioneers The Cure, all at top billing.

The band from West Sussex had gone through a string of transformations since their debut in 1978. Their first album Three Imaginary Boys placed them dead centre amongst the post-punk and new wave movements of the United Kingdom before their second album Seventeen Seconds saw make a permanent mark upon gothic rock. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the band gained commercial success, moving to a more alternative rock style that saw them become trailblazers for the genre throughout the forthcoming decade.

Songs like their 1987 hit, Just Like Heaven, 1989’s Lovesong, and their most iconic single from 1992, Friday I’m In Love, are just the tip of the iceberg of their legendary discography, a catalogue that led to them receiving an unprecedented three-hour headline slot on Saturday 23 July, 2016. The Cure filled out the amphitheatre for almost the entirety of the three hours, despite going head-to-head with the likes of Santigold and Matt Corby.

While The Cure’s three-hour set was the talking point of the festival, the return of cult electronic band The Avalanches certainly turned heads. The Australian band played their first show in 15 years, turning out a set filled with a mix of hits from their 2000 album Since I Left You as well as their recently released Wildflower.

Nostalgia in Full Throttle

Queens of the Stone Age headlined the first day of the three-day event in 2017, 12 years on from headlining the 2005 edition. The California natives’ name at the top of the billing was a nice call-back to the early years of the festival’s legacy, and they didn’t disappoint, closing out the amphitheatre with a raucous performance.

Their appearance certainly wasn’t the only form of nostalgia available to music fans that year, with South Australian legend Paul Kelly also on the billing. At 62 years of age, Kelly was and still is an icon in Australian music, and he pulled out a performance befitting of icon status, turning out Australian anthems like How To Make Gravy, When I First Met Your Ma, and To Her Door.

LCD Soundsystem even returned to Australia for the first time since 2010, and after a hiatus that saw them reform only 18 months prior, playing a two-hour set that spanned their entire career catalogue. However, perhaps the most rose glasses-inducing performance came from former Powderfinger lead singer Bernard Fanning, whose ‘solo’ set at the amphitheatre provided more than those in attendance had bargained for.

Half-way through his set, Fanning decided to create a Splendour moment for the ages, bringing out Darren Middleton, Ian Haug, and John Collins to reunite Powderfinger for the first time in 10 years. The sudden break into (Baby I Got You) On My Mind saw waves of fans flock to the amphitheatre as the first-ever Splendour headliners tore down the house once again.

Photo: Four Minutes to Midnight

Splendour in the Grass: Recent Years

While the last few years of Splendour in the Grass have seen a distinct lack of sentimentality at the top of the billing, there have still been sporadic returns of acts that take you back to a better time.

In 2019 the likes of Wolfmother and The Streets performed, while perhaps peak nostalgia came in the form of The Veronicas, whose surprise appearance during Allday’s set to perform their beloved track Untouched was one of the highlights of 2019.

If Australian punters’ hunger for yesteryear’s greatest acts was still in question, look no further than the Rage Against The Machine rumours that popped up in numbers leading up to the 2020 lineup announcement. With the announcement that RATM would be reuniting at Coachella, rumours of a potential trip to Byron Bay ran rampant. While those rumours, unfortunately, proved false, and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the band’s dates, there was no doubt that there was an abundance of excitement surrounding the band’s potential appearance.

With contemporary acts leading the billing in 2018 and 19, a return to Splendour’s mixed bag normality is on course if the 2021 edition of the festival goes ahead. Aussie rock legends Midnight Oil were originally slated to appear at the 2020 festival, while The Strokes will return to headline for an impressive third time.

While many will miss Flume next year, if past editions are anything to go, Gorillaz will pack the amphitheatre to its limits and lay down a performance that’ll be talked about for years to come.


Splendour In The Grass 2021 goes down on July 24, 25, and 26. Grab your tickets here.